Timelapse Bison Photos

Regular readers of The Prairie Ecologist are familiar with our timelapse photography project at The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.  With the help of Moonshell Media, we set up nine timelapse cameras to capture the recovery of the Preserve from a big wildfire that swept through in 2012.

The cameras are supposed to be taking a photograph every hour during daylight hours to document what happens in front of them.  However, during 2013, we had a few issues with the cameras that led them to take photos much more frequently (and then run out of space on the memory card).  That led to some gaps in our coverage, but the silver lining is that it also gave us some very nice series of photographs over some two to three hour-long periods.

Twice during those frequently-photographed periods, bison were in the frame.  Below are two very short videos made from those photo series.

In the first video, the camera was set to record a blowout area – a site where the sand is destabilized and blown by the wind.  Blowouts are generally disliked by sandhills ranchers because they lack forage and tend to spread unless they are excluded from grazing and allowed to “heal”.  On the other hand, blowouts are ecologically valuable because of the habitat they provide to a wide range of species including plants (including the federally-listed blowout penstemon), tiger beetles, lizards, and many more.   This video shows that blowouts are also attractive to bison.  The video runs from approximately 7:30am to 10am on June 28, 2013.

We put one camera high atop a tall windmill tower to capture a landscape view of burned sandhills prairie.  During this video, the same herd of bison shown above wanders through the frame during a two and a half hour period on the afternoon of October 8, 2013.  As you can see by the color of the vegetation, most plants are in or near dormancy by this time of year, so the bison are picking and choosing what they can find to eat.  The bison at the Preserve get themselves through the winter without supplemental feed from staff, so October food is probably pretty attractive compared to what’s available in February…

These short bursts of timelapse video were not the expected product of this project, but have turned out to be some nice bonus coverage.  Fortunately, the gaps caused by full memory cards are not long enough to seriously disrupt the bigger story of long-term recovery.  I’ll continue to bring you that story as it emerges.



About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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12 Responses to Timelapse Bison Photos

  1. Melissa Marinovich says:

    Love these videos! Beautiful – keep them coming :)

  2. James McGee says:

    In the second video the bison look like mice. Seeing this view of such a large animal looking so small makes one realize how little significance we all have as individuals in the dance that is life.

  3. Karen Hamburger says:

    The Bison in the blow out remind me of little kids in the sand box. All that is missing is the Tonka trucks!!!!

  4. Susan Carpenter says:

    Do bison dust bathe? It looks like that (for some) in the bison blowout.

  5. Reblogged this on The Great Plains Trail and commented:
    Very Cool!

  6. Pingback: Timelapse Bison Photos | Gaia Gazette

  7. Hi Chris,

    I don’t see the video links you mentioned. 



    • Chris Helzer says:

      Suzanne – could be a browser issue (old version?) or maybe virus protection issue. Sorry about that. See if you can get there from these links:

      – Chris

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Or try to copy and paste these into your browser and delete the “A” right before the “http”:

  8. Pingback: Before/after photos: 2014 awards and new 2015 competition | Ian Lunt's Ecological Research Site

  9. Pingback: Antlion Timelapse | The Prairie Ecologist


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